Bernama.com – Noor Shamsiah Mohamed
SETIU, Oct 26 (Bernama) — Terrapins are listed as among the world’s 25 species being threatened by extinction, yet there are those who could not be bothered by this frightening fact.
Similar to what is happening to its cousin, the turtle, the river terrapin is not safe from man-made dangers like the fishing nets, boat engine’s rotor blades, river pollution and sand-dredging.
The habit of eating the oval-shaped terrapin eggs, available at RM4 each in the market, has made the extinction threat more acute to the terrapins.
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s (UMT) head for terrapin conservation and research project, Prof Dr Chan Eng Heng, said the river terrapins can only be found in several countries including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
He said in Malaysia, various threats have diminished the number of river terrapins and they can only be found in states like Kedah which has 20-40 nests, Perak (30-50 nests) and Terengganu.
Dr Chan said in Terengganu, the river terrapins can be found at Sungai Setiu (20-40 nests), Sungai Terengganu (50-80 nests) and Sungai Dungun (40-80 nests).
With each passing year, the number of terrapin nests is decreasing and this is a cause for concern and needs strict measures to ensure the survival of the terrapins.
Several initiatives have been undertaken by government agencies like the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and UMT to conserve the terrapins who can live up to 60 years, reaching the weigh of 50 kg.
Since four years ago, UMT which is the former Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia (Kustem), has conducted a terrapin conservation project at Sungai Setiu.
The project has been able to improve terrapin egg-hatching from 65 percent four years ago to 79 percent this year.
“Since four years ago, UMT had been buying the terrapin eggs at RM4 each from egg collectors who are staying along Sungai Setiu, particularly those in Kampung Mangkok.
“Within that period, the university has acquired 1,255 terrapin eggs and managed to hatch 236 in 2004, 147 (2005), 275 (2006) and 180 this year.
Dr Chan, the Professor at the Oceanography Institute, said the hatching rate for this year has improved due to the collaboration of Kampung Mangkok residents who hatched the eggs at areas near the nests as compared to the previous method of bringing back the eggs to UMT’s hatchery.
This method has reduced the destruction of the terrapin’s embryo, which happened during the movement to the incubation and hatchery sites.
He said the biggest challenge in the conservation effort is to educate the people on the importance of conserving the terrapins.
“The most difficult aspect is to convince them not to eat the terrapin eggs as it has become their preference,” he said.
The public awareness campaign on the significance of the terrapins’ survival, implemented since the past three years, has begun to take effect.
Aug 31 last year saw the Terengganu government collaborating with the United States-based Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF) and Turtle Survival Alliance of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to unveil the “Love Terrapins” programme.
This year, it was UMT’s turn to launch the “Rescue Our Terrapins” programme.
The programme saw UMT releasing 50 “Batagur Baska” terrapins, aged 2-3 years at the Pak Long Teh sandbar, Sungai Setiu, located near Kampung Mangkok.
The event was held in conjunction with the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.
Each of the terrapins carried a microchip that enables the amphibian to be identified.